BONANZA FANFICTION BY CAZ

Wherefore Art Thou, Romeos?           Rating G                    (Young Cartwrights)

Adam Cartwright leaned back on the stacked bags of grain outside the Virginia City General Store. He was waiting for his brother, Hoss, to return so he didn’t have to complete the backbreaking chore of loading sacks into the buckboard on his own. If he played his cards right, he might not even have to load them at all. Hoss could be manipulated on occasion, if Adam was cunning enough. Then, there was the problem of Little Joe, who, this very minute was running riot in the store spending the two bits Adam had given him to keep him occupied. At twelve years old, Joe was a handful for any one of them, especially in town.

Adam leaned back, lazily wondering how much longer Hoss could possibly be at the barber. It wasn’t as if Hoss had a big date Saturday night. He was so shy around women Adam sometimes doubted if they indeed had the same blood in their veins. It was already apparent that Little Joe was going to be a ladies man. He’d recently been caught trying to kiss two of the girls in his class at school. Adam hadn’t been pleased when his father made him go down and talk to Miss Jones about Joe’s conduct. Adam was successful in getting Joe off the hook, but he had a strong suspicion things would get a whole lot worse in the coming few years.

Adam watched the streets as he waited. Nothing much happened in Virginia City. At least nothing lately that interested Adam. The noise from the mines echoed through the town. The streets were full of miners, ranchers and settlers coming through. But, there was nothing of any cultural value that held the young academic's attention.

He’d been home from college for almost three months, and he was only just starting to adjust back to his old life. He’d gotten used to the mentally challenging aspect of Boston, his circle of learned friends, the political debates and the busy social calendar. Today, Virginia City ran a very poor second in Adam’s opinion. He sighed again, very melodramatically, and looked at his pocket watch. Little Joe had been far too long in the store, so he supposed he’d better go look for him.

‘Morning, Adam.’ He turned around to see who was calling him, and his mouth creased into a smile as he recognized Sally Cass. She was an old friend.

‘Morning, Sally.’ Adam stood up and walked to the end of the boardwalk as she approached. His interest was keenly sharpened as he saw another young lady walking along with her. A new girl in town? Had to be, as she was dressed in refined eastern clothes, with a certain air about her that Adam recognized as city bred. As the girls approached him, he removed his hat and smiled confidently at them both, especially at the stranger.

‘Adam, It’s so good to see you,’ began Sally. ‘We’ve only spoken briefly since you got back. I’d love for you to come over one afternoon and tell me all about your adventures.’ Sally smiled, but realized Adam was looking past her to her friend.

‘Adam, I’d like you to meet Megan Simms. She’s from back east.’

‘Pleasure to meet you, Miss Simms.’ Adam smoothly took up her hand and gently kissed the back of it.

‘Mr. Cartwright.’ Megan didn’t go all giggly at his action, as most of the local girls did. She was definitely city bred. She remained serenely cool.

‘May I ask where you are from, Miss Simms?’ Adam took in her lovely oval face and creamy skin. She had pale blonde hair; swept back from her face with elaborately decorated combs. Her eyes were deep blue, and her body, fine and delicate. Her day dress, though simple, reflected wealth and good taste. Adam liked the look of her very much.

‘I’m from Boston, originally, but Daddy and I have lived the last few years in New York. He runs a large company there.’ Adam’s smile widened. Her accent was North Eastern, with a slight English inflection, no doubt due to the social circles in which she moved.

‘And may I ask what brings you to Virginia City?’

‘Daddy has business with the mines here for a couple of months. I thought it droll to have to come. Fortunately, Sally and I attended the same finishing school two years ago. We've been catching up, haven’t we Sally?’

‘Why, yes. Megan and her father are staying with us for a few weeks, Adam. I’m afraid it isn’t what she’s used to, though. Virginia City is in the middle of nowhere.’ Sally was obviously having trouble keeping her friend entertained and pleaded with her eyes for Adam to help her out.

‘Megan, you should enjoy talking with Adam. He just completed four years at Harvard. He graduated with honors, isn’t that right, Adam?’

Adam smiled at Sally, quite pleased that she’d brought up the subject. He was still rather tickled himself that he had done so well, and Hoss had even described him as being quite swelled-headed about it.

‘That’s true.’ Megan was obviously impressed. His chest swelled slightly and he stood more erect.

‘Well, a Harvard man, in this backwater. Who would have guessed? Tell me, Adam, what did you major in?’

‘Engineering and architecture.’

‘Oh, that must have been so difficult. But I’m afraid I don’t know much about either.’ Megan looked disappointed.

‘Oh, but he also studied Literature, didn’t you Adam?’ Sally half nodded at him knowing that Megan had a love for the arts.

‘Why, yes.’

‘Oh, really? How exciting! And I thought there was no culture here.’ Megan, taking a whole new look at the young man in front of her, swiveled slightly and took his arm.

‘Adam, you simply must come to tea tomorrow, and tell me all about your studies. Why, we could even start a little literary group going. It would make the next few weeks so much more bearable.’ Sally winced a little, realizing just how simple her life style must seem to her friend.

Adam found himself agreeing to both tea, and the idea of a group before the next minute was out. Just as he was about to continue the conversation, Hoss reappeared from his trip to the barber.

‘Mornin’ Sally.’ Hoss grinned in his friendly way.

‘Good morning, Hoss.’ Sally smiled back and noted Megan’s miffed reaction to Hoss’s intrusion.

‘Hey, Adam, where’s Little Joe?’ Hoss stood along side his brother, and only then noticed the other girl.

‘Hoss, I would like you to meet Miss Megan Simms.’ Adam politely introduced them and watched as his brother floundered with a reply.

‘Oh, er, Howdy, Ma'am.’ Hoss wiped his hand on his trouser leg and offered it to her. She took it and he shook it vigorously. Megan squeaked with pain.

‘Hoss!’ Adam knew his brother's strength. He could easily crush such a delicate woman’s fine hand.

‘Oh, sorry, Ma'am. I’m terrible sorry. Don’t know my own strength sometimes.’ Hoss snatched his hand back and hid it behind his back, very embarrassed at his own carelessness.

‘Adam, I’d better go find Little Joe. He could be anyplace by now.’ Hoss retreated quickly, tipping his hat to both ladies, and turning red when he looked at Megan.

‘What an oaf!’ Megan showed displeasure as she rubbed her hand. Adam, annoyed by her remark, quickly defended him.

‘Hoss is my brother, Miss Simms. I know he’s a little rough around the edges, but a more sincere man you won’t find.’

‘Oh, your brother?’ Megan raised her eyebrows. ‘I take it he hasn’t been to Harvard.’ She dismissed any further talk of Hoss by turning back to Sally.

‘I can feel this dry heat burning my delicate skin, Sally. I think we’d better retire to the International House for lunch.’ She turned fluttering lashes in Adam’s direction.

‘Would you like to escort us to lunch, Adam?’

The rising anger he'd felt after her comment about Hoss was swept away by her beguiling looks. Sorely tempted, Adam had to remember that he was only in town to pick up supplies. If he wanted time the following afternoon to take tea with them, he couldn’t possibly stay now.

‘Sorry, Miss Megan, I have to be getting back to the Ponderosa.’

‘The Ponderosa?’

‘Yes, Megan. Adam’s family owns the largest ranch this side of the Rockies.’ Sally said it with pride, also to some extent, defending her homeland.

‘Really, how quaint.' Megan, not in the least impressed, opened her lacy cream parasol. 'Well, see you tomorrow, Adam. At four, precisely. We shall discuss Boston, and the classics.’ With that, she dismissed him with a favorable smile. The two young women strolled off, and Adam let out a puff of air. She was a little stuck up, but boy she was cultured. He placed his hat back on his head and tipped it forward. He could do with a little culture round about now.

Adam, we’re in big trouble. I can’t find Little Joe anywhere.’ Hoss wiped his brow and looked up and down the street in frustration.

‘He can’t be far. He just spent a small fortune on candy. You go up that way, and I’ll look down here. Meet you back here in ten minutes, okay?’

Adam was annoyed at Joe’s antics. He wanted to get home and plan his afternoon with Megan. He had to smooth things over with his father, as they were very busy at the moment with summer haying. He hadn’t been able to discuss any college subjects since returning to Nevada. None of his friends had been back east. Hoss was not at all interested in books. At eighteen years old, Hoss had been relieved to finally finish his formal schooling and work full time on the ranch. Ben, of course, enjoyed having the occasional absorbing conversation with Adam, but he was always so busy with the ranch that those opportunities rarely occurred. Little Joe was too young. Not that he liked school any better than Hoss had done. Adam proceeded to look for Little Joe, all the while, getting angrier.

Joe couldn’t believe that he’d managed to sneak away from Adam’s watchful eye. Ever since his big brother returned home, Joe had been feeling resentful and hard done by. Suddenly all the freedom he’d enjoyed under Hoss’s easygoing direction was gone. While Adam was away, Joe had run a little wild. Ben, although strict, had a large ranch to run and expand, so he often passed on the responsibility to Hoss for watching Joe. With Hoss, Joe could get away with practically anything. He had him wrapped around his little finger. Sure, when Pa got really mad, he dished out the punishment severely, but as Joe was smart and cunning, his father rarely caught him out.

So it had been a kind of boy heaven, doing as he pleased, playing practical jokes, being late home from school and playing hooky. Not that he was a bad boy, just mischievous and fun loving. Unfortunately, when Adam came home, all his fun came to an abrupt halt. Adam picked up his older brother, surrogate father role, just where he’d left off when Joe was eight. Not only that, he was appalled at the way Joe had been left to his own devices and took it upon himself to put him back on the straight and narrow. That included behaving in school, doing homework, chores and being strictly supervised twenty-four hours a day! At least if felt like it to the budding teenager.

Joe grimaced as he remembered the tanning Adam had given him only the week before, after the kissing incident. He guessed he shouldn’t have taken it one step further, by calling Adam an old goat and telling him to get lost with a swear word he’d overheard in the saloon a few days earlier. That was another thing. If Adam found out he’d been hiding in the saloon, he’d have faired far worse.

No, Joe sure hated the fact that Adam was back. He was a spoilsport and a right pain in the rear end. Just now, when he’d seen him chatting to the ladies in the street and suavely kissing the new girl's hand, Joe decided to go find his own girlfriend to spite his brother. He wanted to try out the hand kissing technique for himself.

Adam finally found Joe hiding up an alley, talking to Hallie Shannon, his girlfriend from school.

‘Little Joe, you get back to that wagon, right this minute.’ Joe turned and gave his big brother a sour glare.

‘I’m talkin’ to Hallie.’ Adam crossed his arms and his dark eyes glinted with controlled anger.

‘Well, you can just say good-bye to Hallie. We’re late because of you.’

‘Oh, what about you talkin’ to that fancy woman out in the street? Kissin’ her hand and everythin'.’ Joe mocked Adam by taking Hallie’s hand and kissing the back of it.

‘Joe, you get back there, this instant. Hallie, you better get back to your house right now before I tell you mother where you’ve been.’

Hallie looked genuinely scared of Adam, even though Little Joe reassured her that he could take care of his big brother.

‘Don’t you worry, Hallie. He’s nothing but a big OLD bag of wind.’

‘Joe.’ Adam said his name, calmly and slowly. Joe knew he’d pushed him as far as he could, so he said goodbye to Hallie and smugly sauntered back to the wagon. Adam curtailed his temper and made sure Hallie returned to her house across the street before he went back to Hoss.

On their way home, Joe slouched in the back of the buckboard, pleased with his little rebellious act. He steadily chomped his way through the candy he’d bought. Adam was grateful that he was being so quiet, but glanced at Hoss several times with concern. He usually chattered away with good nature. Instead, Hoss seemed sullen and distracted. After half an hour of silence, Adam spoke up.

‘Anything wrong, Hoss?’

‘Huh?’

‘I said, anything wrong?’

‘No. Aw, heck, I don’t know.’ Adam sighed, knowing that Hoss did indeed have a problem.

‘What is it?’

Hoss looked down at his boots, not knowing what to say.

‘Aw, you wouldn’t understand, Adam.’

‘Try me.’ Adam noticed they’d lost a little of the easy relationship they’d enjoyed from before his college days. He regretted that, and wanted it back.

‘Just thinkin’ about that pretty little gal back in town. How clumsy I was with her. Could'a broke her in two.’ Hoss kicked at the sideboard with annoyance.

‘Well, I don’t know about that Hoss.’

‘Well, I do. I just ain’t no good 'round women. They plumb scare me.’

Hoss turned red and Adam tried to think of something positive to say. It was true. Hoss had real trouble talking to girls. Adam figured it was because of his size. When Hoss had first gone to school, the other children had unmercifully taunted him. He'd been so much bigger than all the other kids had. It hadn’t been easy for Hoss to fit in, although he was such a wonderful boy with a kind nature.

In the end, he’d formed friendships, but not with many girls. They’d still teased and taunted him until recently. Sally had been one of the few he’d been able to talk to. The truth was, there were lots of girls in town now, who would like to go out with Hoss, but he was just too shy to oblige.

‘Well, truth be, brother, they kinda scare me too.’ Adam looked at Hoss with open honesty.

‘Aw, Adam, I don’t believe that.’ Hoss chuckled and brightened.

‘Sure they do. Thing is, I don’t let them get the better of me. If it’s one thing a pretty girl wants, it’s adoration, attention and pleasing words. She also wants a man who doesn’t fawn over her. Women are like horses,' Adam continued, trying to put it into Hoss's terms. 'They like to know who’s boss. They like us to be a little strong, but at the same time, they like to think they’re in control. Then. ...’

‘Hold up there, Adam. I don’t follow you. You know all that?’

‘Sure, and more. ‘

‘Now, I don’t want to learn all that, I just wanna be able to say hi to a gal without trippen’ over my boots, you know.’

‘Well, all right. You talk fine to Sally, don’t you?’

‘Sure, but well, Sally’s a friend. It’s not like she’s a girl.’

Adam raised his eyebrows at Hoss’s fuzzy logic.

‘Well, I don’t know when you last looked, but she sure looks like one to me.’

‘You know what I mean, Adam. Like that Megan. I wouldn’t have a chance with someone like that, and you know it.’

Adam thought on that for some time. How could he increase Hoss’s confidence with women? It was true. Hoss had no chance with someone like Megan, but then again, why not? If Hoss knew the right words, or the right moves, Megan would be impressed. She loved the classics. If Hoss took an interest in them, she would like him, surely.

‘Hoss, how would you like to join a literary group?’

‘A litter what?’

Adam smiled. With Megan as bait, Adam might just succeed in teaching Hoss how to woo women. It could turn out to be a very interesting week after all.

Hoss’s cup literally shook as he held it out for the tea to be poured. Adam cringed as he waited for Hoss to drop the delicate china and cause a small disaster to overshadow the pleasant proceedings. But Hoss managed to hold on and Adam breathed a sigh of relief as his nervous brother withdrew the brimming cup and placed it down on the fine lace tablecloth in front of him.

‘So, Hoss, I didn’t know you had a fondness for Byron.’ Megan had taken Hoss’s presence with polite resignation, but doubted his credentials.

‘Well, Ma'am, I like it real well. Although, I ain’t so fond of it as Adam.’ Hoss swallowed and gave his brother a ‘drowning’ look.

‘No, I’m sure you’re not.’ Megan frowned and looked sideways at Adam. Sally remained quiet, sipping her tea.

‘What Hoss means, Miss Simms, is…‘

‘Megan, please, Adam.’ She turned to him, placing her hand on his in a casual but deliberate way.

‘Megan.’ Adam cleared his throat, and continued. ‘What my brother is trying to say is, Byron is not his favorite. He’s more into the traditional.

‘Oh, and what precisely is his favorite?’ Adam looked to Hoss and coached him with his eyes. He'd told him all about Milton and what comments would be appropriate.

‘Shakespeare!’ Hoss piped up with confidence. Adam choked on his piece of cake.

‘Shakespeare?’ Megan half laughed at the word. You Hoss? I find that very hard to believe.'

So did Adam, who gave his brother a bewildered, shocked stare. He certainly hadn't told him to say that! Sally practically burst out laughing. She knew the Cartwrights well and she realized that Adam was coaching his brother. She saw the look between the two. Adam had obviously told Hoss that to impress a woman, he needed to show an interest something she was fond of. She was right.

After their chat the evening before, Hoss taken Adam's advice to heart. He'd thought about his brother's advice all night. To impress this girl, Hoss had to think big. To get her attention he would have to come up with something special. Adam's idea of Milton and his subsequent coaching on the subject didn't seem quite enough. Now, Hoss hadn’t done too well at school in this area, but he knew Shakespeare was the best classical author, ever. Nothing would impress Megan more than that!’

‘Shakespeare, I love it. All of it.’ Hoss spoke with confidence and authority. Adam continued to stare at him. This was NOT what he’d told his brother to say.

‘I know I don’t have no fancy certificate to show my appreciation of the written word, but, well, it don’t mean I don’t love it as much as y'all.’

Adam tried hard not to gag. What on earth had made him say Shakespeare? He'd told him very specifically what to say. Adam had a chance, teaching Hoss about some of the other classic novels and poetry. But Shakespeare’s plays were so difficult to grasp. Adam almost had a fit when Megan moved on with her questions.

‘I too love Mr. Shakespeare’s works. Which is your favorite, Hoss?’ They all waited with baited breath. Adam unconsciously covered his mouth with his hand.

‘Well, truth is Ma'am, they’s all kinda good.’ Hoss suddenly felt like taking it all back and running. He only now realized how much trouble he was getting himself into.

‘My favorite is Macbeth.’ Adam piped up. ‘I love the evil undertones and the way Macbeth is driven almost to madness, when . . .’

‘Adam, please! I want Hoss’s ideas on the subject,’ Megan countered smoothly, and Adam fell silent again. There was nothing he could do to help his brother now.

‘Well, Hoss. Don’t be shy. We’d really like to know.'

Hoss swallowed and tried hard to remember all he knew about Shakespeare. Then it came back to him. In his last year of school, his class had done an extract from one of the plays. He wasn’t chosen to be in it. He had to do the props. But he remembered some of the story.

‘Well, that’s easy. My favorite is Romeo and Juliet.’ Hoss sat back with confidence.

Adam’s eyes almost popped out of his sockets. Oh, boy. This was going to be a disaster.

‘Hoss! Romeo and Juliet? How romantic. Really? That’s your favorite?’ Megan, now believing a little, turned real attention to Hoss.

‘Yep, sure is. And it’s so sad, too.’ Hoss smiled smugly, and Adam felt like crawling under his chair.

‘Oh, that’s my favorite too,' beamed Megan. 'I love the ending. It’s so tragic. Don’t you think?’

‘Oh, yes Ma'am.’ Hoss quickly took a piece of cake from the silver-serving dish and filled his mouth with it. Hopefully that would mean he wouldn’t be able to answer any more questions for a few minutes.

‘Well, as I was saying about Macbeth, it’s a much more powerful play, with real...’

‘Adam!' Megan swiveled around in annoyance. 'Macbeth is so droll. It has no soul. Isn’t that right, Hoss?’ Hoss nodded his head, unable to speak with his mouth full.

‘See, Hoss is a real gentleman, not afraid to speak his mind about liking a piece of work about undying love and sacrifice. Not many men would admit to that.’ Megan looked at Adam who shrank back in his chair.

‘Oh, far be it for me to criticize the romantic heart.’ Adam answered sarcastically, while giving Hoss his special ‘let’s get out of here’ look. Hoss didn’t catch on as he ate a second slice of cake. He was quite pleased with himself for thinking up the idea of saying he liked Shakespeare. It certainly impressed Megan.

‘You mean to say, Adam, that if Romeo and Juliet was playing in town, none of the men would be interesting in seeing it?’ Megan challenged him.

‘Well, I think you’d have a better chance of having a full house if Macbeth were on instead. More action.’ Adam drained his cup and looked at the grandfather clock in Sally’s parlor. He really was ready to escape.

‘All right then, why don’t we put it to the test?’

‘Put what to the test, Megan?’ Sally was curious as to where this was all going to lead.

‘Why don’t we put on a production of Romeo and Juliet, right here in Virginia City?’

‘What?’ Adam looked at her painfully as she continued. Hoss stopped chewing, frozen.

‘Yes, we could all take part. We’d have to get more people, of course, but we could rehearse in the evenings, and hold it in the community hall. Our literary society in New York held a play once, for charity. We had the most splendid time.’

Megan chatted on about the idea, as the other three in the room just sat in stunned silence.

‘But Megan, we don’t have the time. We have a ranch to run,’ began Adam.

‘Then, we can rehearse in the late afternoon at the Ponderosa.’

‘But wait, this is a difficult play, Megan. We could do something, but not Shakespeare.’ Adam pleaded.

‘Why is that, Adam? Afraid you won’t be able to handle it?’ Adam looked offended.

‘Of course not, but.’

‘Well, that’s all right, because I want Hoss to play Romeo alongside my Juliet. And Sally, you could be the nurse, or something.’ Megan sipped her tea with a smug look.

‘Hoss! Hoss can’t be Romeo.’ Adam, totally put out by her dismissal of him, looked across at his brother.

‘And why not, OLDER brother?’ Hoss's face beamed with delightful surprise.

‘Yes Adam, why not?' continued Megan. 'Romeo was still only a teenager, you know. You’re a little old for the part.’

‘Old! I’m only 24!’

‘That’s what I mean. Hoss is 18, much closer to Romeo’s age. I’m 19, so that makes it perfect. You could maybe play Montague, Romeo’s father.’

‘His father! I’m not playing Hoss’s father!’ replied a horrified Adam.

‘Well, don’t be in it at all then, We’ll do fine, won’t we Hoss?’ Hoss nodded benevolently tickled that he was the center of attention for once.

‘I know Adam, you can direct. You would be excellent. An inspiration! You would have complete artistic control on the whole project. What do you say?’ Megan, pleased with her idea, watched Adam’s reaction. He was silent for a long time, pondering the matter.

Adam finally started to come around. He was intrigued by the idea. Director! That was rather distinguished. He could mould the play and the actors to his will. It would be his play, his triumph.

‘All right, I’ll do it.’

‘Oh, good. That’s settled, then. Now, let’s talk about the rest of the cast and the props etc. This is going to be so rewarding.’

Hoss was silent as he and his brother rode home over two hours later. He could see by the tense cut of his brother’s shoulders against the fading light, just how unhappy Adam was with him. It hadn’t seemed like such a bad thing to say at the time. Now, Megan had a full-scale production of Romeo and Juliet in the works and Hoss was in real trouble. He had to hope that Adam would help him through it all.

‘Adam, It might be fun to... ‘ Adam turned his head stiffly and stared Hoss down. Hoss fell silent again. He hung his head and didn’t say another word until they got home. After washing up, the pair sat at the dinner table and was soon joined by Ben and Little Joe.

‘Well, boys, how did your afternoon tea go?’ Ben had been delighted when Adam offered to take Hoss with him to have tea with the ladies. Hoss needed a little help to socialize more and Adam could provide that help.

Neither of them answered him and he looked up, annoyed.

‘Well, am I talking to a wall?’ Ben reached for the meat tray and took a couple of slices of beef. Little Joe stayed remarkably quiet, sensing his brothers had been arguing. It wasn’t often he wasn’t the one in trouble.

‘It was a disaster, Pa.’ Adam was the one to speak first. Hoss looked guiltily at his plate.

‘Oh? Why?’ Ben hated to think. Hoss must have broken something.

‘Hoss went and said he liked Shakespeare!’ Adam glared across at his brother, as if that explained everything. Ben raised his eyebrows.

‘Was that all?’

‘Was that all! Wasn’t that enough? He made a complete fool out of himself!’

‘Now, you hold on just a dadburned minute, Adam. I did not make a fool outa myself! She was mighty impressed and as I recall, took a real shine to me after that. You’re just mad ‘cause I’m playin’ Romeo.’ Hoss jutted his chin and took an ear of corn, reclaiming his appetite.

Ben looked from one to the other and tried to work out what they were on about.

‘Well, boys, wasn’t the purpose of the afternoon to discuss the classics?’ Ben felt he had to state the obvious.

‘But Pa, not Shakespeare! He doesn’t understand a word of it. Now Megan’s putting on a production of it, and she’s got Hoss playing Romeo,’ Adam grumbled.

‘Hey, you two, in a play?’ Hot diggity!’ Little Joe laughed with glee.

‘Joseph! I’ll not have you using that language in this house!’ Ben frowned at his youngest and then turned to Adam.

‘You’re going to be in a play? How are you going to find time to do that?’

‘I’m not in it Pa.’ Adam pushed the food around on his plate glumly.

‘Oh?’ Ben almost felt like smiling as his eldest was certainly bordering on a tantrum.

‘I’m the director.’ He explained with serious conviction. ‘That means I have control of the whole thing. We’re going to practice out here in the late afternoon everyday after the work’s finished. And Hoss has to do as I say.’ Adam eyed his brother with anger. Ben thought about this turn of events for a moment. He didn't believe anything would come of it, but it sounded like something that would be positive for Hoss.

‘Well, that’s good. That means you’ll be able to help Hoss with his lines and make sure he doesn’t have any problems.’ Pa challenged Adam and knew he’d won.

‘Yeah, I suppose so.’ Adam pushed his plate away and brightened a little. After all, it was Hoss he was supposed to be helping, wasn't it? For a moment there, the budding actor in him had wanted to break out.

‘Hey, you two, what about me?’ Joe piped up from his seat and gave them both a challenging look.

‘What about you, little brother?’ Hoss answered.

‘I wanna be in it too. You're supposed to look after me in the afternoon, so I’ll have to be in the play else Pa won’t give you the time off. Will you Pa?’

‘Well…'

‘Pa, you can’t be serious. Little Joe can’t be in Romeo and Juliet!’ Adam challenged his father. His eldest didn't phase Ben.

‘Nevertheless, there should be something he could do to help?’ reasoned Ben. How about a stage hand?’ Ben kept a straight face as the two young men's expressions fell.

Adam complained first.

‘Pa, there’s no way we’re going to have Joe hanging around, causing trouble. It’s going to be hard enough, anyway, without him causing trouble.’

‘Yeah Pa. He’s gonna get in the way,’ Hoss replied. His appetite deserted him once more at the thought.

‘Well, you’re going to have to get used to the idea, because Joe is right. It’s your job to look after him when he comes home from school. If he can’t be in the play, well, it’s got to be called off. I can’t spare time to look after him myself.’ Ben gave them all a solemn stare.

Adam and Hoss looked at Joe, who wore a smug expression. Even though he was almost thirteen years old, he still needed close supervision. Idle time in Joe’s hands was like leaving lit dynamite out in the street. Adam considered the embarrassing task of telling Megan they couldn’t do the play because their father wouldn’t let them. That was out of the question.

‘All right Joe, you can be my assistant. Anything I want, you’ll have to do. Fetch and carry, make props, anything. And you’d better not play any practical jokes. This is serious stuff! Understand?’ Adam glared a warning at his little brother and crossed his arms.

‘Sure, Adam. Anything you say.’ Joe giggled insidiously and attacked his food. This was going to be fun!

Later that night, the lamp burned brightly in Adam’s room. Hoss struggled with his new challenge.

‘O, . . .she . . .doth . . .teach the torches . . .to burn. . bright!

It seems she . . .hangs upon the cheeks . . . of night.

As rich . . .as . . .a jewel in an . . .E. .Ethiop’s ear . . .’

‘No, No, NO!’ Adam banged the short sharp stick he’d taken to, down on the corner of the desk in his room.

‘Dadburnit, Adam! You’ve been yellin’ at me for two hours now. I just caint get the hang of this stuff. Don’t even understand it. Why can’t they speak plain English?’ Hoss was on the verge of a mighty temper.

‘They are speaking English, Hoss! Pure English. The kind they used to speak before we got hold of it and destroyed it! Now, try to say the words more flowingly. Remember, you’re not just reading them, you're acting them.’

Adam tapped the desk again, and commanded him to continue. Hoss gave his brother a frown, then reluctantly picked up the book again.

‘Beauty too rich for use, for earth. . . .too dear!

So shows a snowy dove troopings . . . with crows.’

Hoss screwed up his face and stopped again, much to his brother’s ongoing frustration.

‘Well, what’s wrong now?’

‘Oh, dadburnit, Adam. I just don’t get it. All this flowery talk. What’s it all mean, anyhow?’

‘Hoss, it’s very descriptive. You’ve got to study the words, learn the language.’

‘It’s all right for you to say that. You’ve been readin’ this stuff for years. I just don’t understand most of it. I guess I ain’t very smart.’

Hoss sat down on the end of Adam’s bed and hung his head. Adam felt guilty as he looked at his brother. Hoss was trying very hard.

‘Hoss, nobody reads Shakespeare for the first time and understands it. It’s practically another language.’

‘But you understand it all right.’

‘Sure, but remember Mr. Smith, my old teacher?’

‘Yeah.’

‘Well. He taught me how to understand it. Kind of interpreted it for me, until I got the hang of it. You just substitute the old fashioned words for ours, and gradually pick it up.’

‘Yeah.’ Hoss still wasn’t responding.

‘How about I do that for you. I’ll write comments in your margin, kind of explaining the passages, so you can understand it.’

Hoss lifted his head, and looked brighter.

‘That might help.’

‘Sure it will. Now, that passage you were reading. That’s a very important scene.’

‘It is?’ Hoss flipped open the page again and stared at the words.

‘Sure. It’s the moment in the play, where Romeo sees Juliet for the first time. He sees her in a crowded room, at a Masquerade ball.’ Wanting to make it more real for his younger brother, Adam crouched down in front of him and made him think about the scene.

‘Imagine, Hoss. You’ve just arrived at a party and at it you see Juliet. She is a member of a family you've been told is your enemy.

‘Why are they enemies?’

‘Well, we don’t know. It’s never explained.

‘Why not?’

‘Well, most believe it’s so the audience doesn’t take sides with one family or the other. They remain sympathetic to the young couple.’

‘Oh.’

‘The important thing is, you look across the crowded room, and you see the most beautiful girl you've ever seen in your life.’ Adam flourished his hand out to the empty bedroom, and Hoss followed his train of thought.

‘You are moved beyond reason. This passage describes your first words about her. She’s a vision, a goddess!’

‘A Goddess!’ Hoss repeated, trying to visualize the image of his Juliet.

‘Then, you are worried.’

‘Why?’ Hoss frowned as he saw the guests around him, the beautiful woman and best of all, the party food!

‘Because you realize she is a member of the Capulet clan. Your family’s sworn enemies.

‘Dadburnit!’ Why did she have to be one of them?’

‘Exactly!’ Adam laughed with Hoss’s simple translation. That’s the whole point. Their love can never be because of the feud.’

‘I get it. But, she’s so beautiful, ain’t she Adam?’ Hoss smiled as he thought of a exquisite young woman.

‘Oh yes, very. You just keep thinking about how beautiful she is, and read the rest of the passage, which is all about your first impressions of her loveliness.’ Adam tipped back in his chair, and unconsciously tapped his stick to Hoss’s voice as he continued the verse. This time his reading showed much more concentration and enthusiasm.

‘As yonder lady o’er her fellow shows.

The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand.

And, touching hers, make blessed my rude hand.

Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!

For I ne’er saw true beauty till this night.’

Adam stopped tapping and let a smile grow on his lips. He stood up and slapped Hoss on the back.

‘You’re getting it brother. You’re actually getting it!’

*

Hoss couldn’t put the play down. On Friday, he read Shakespeare at breakfast, lunch and dinner. He took it to work with him in his saddlebag, much to the hand’s amusement and Chubb’s delight. Hoss would be so busy reading, he’d let his mount wander off and start munching grass instead of working. Adam was pleased that Hoss was trying so hard. He needed to understand much more before the rehearsals started the following week. The one who was not amused was Ben. He could see this thing getting out of hand, and no work being done on the ranch for the next month at least.

By Saturday night, Hoss was reciting one or two passages very well, with real understanding. Adam was pleased with his progress and grinned to himself as he prepared to go into town for his big date with Sara. Hoss was going to the dance as well, but didn’t have a partner. Adam got an idea. He called Hoss into his room, as he put the final touches to his evening suit.

‘Yeah, Adam?’

‘Hoss, I want you to do something for me tonight.’

‘Yeah?’ Hoss leaned on Adam’s doorjamb and munched on an apple.

‘I want you to try some of those lines on the girls at the dance.’

‘Some lines? You mean, outa the play?’

‘Sure, you know, the one’s from the balcony scene. Recite a few, see how they like them.’ Adam turned and smiled deviously at his younger brother.

‘Ow, Adam. I caint do that. I’d feel kinda silly. Sayin’ them words just to anybody.’ Hoss looked down at the floor.

‘But Hoss, don’t forget, that in a few weeks time, you’re going to have to say all the words in front of an audience. Maybe a hundred people.’

Hoss suddenly froze. A hundred! He almost choked on the apple, and coughed all the way back to his room. Adam chuckled. Perhaps Megan would be at the dance. Hoss could impress her. After all, that was the whole object of the exercise wasn't it?

They both rode into town, feeling jovial. They exchanged lines from the play back and forth. Adam had explained most of it to Hoss, and he was getting a real feeling for the characters and the difficult passages. When in town, Adam dropped Hoss off at the dance, then veered off to pick up Sara.

She lived down the end of Third Street, and Adam decided to walk her to the dance, leaving his mount at the livery stable for the evening. He was looking forward to the night, as he’d been trying to get Sara to go out with him for two months. Adam didn’t usually have any trouble getting the girls to accompany him to a social event, but Sara played hard to get. This intrigued the eldest Cartwright, and he’d made her his personal mission. She’d finally relented only on Friday when she’d surprisingly agreed to accompany him.

Her mother answered the door after Adam’s knock, and Sara made him wait a good ten minutes before she appeared. Adam didn’t mind. It was all a game with women. He considered himself sophisticated and experienced after his time in the east. At least, that’s what his invincible twenty-four year old brain made him believe.

Finally, Sara made it out to the parlor. She looked lovely in a yellow evening dress with her honey colored hair in a French twist. She was almost a foot shorter than Adam, and very slim. It made him feel all the more powerful and protective.

‘Adam.’ She bowed her head to him and stifled a giggle as he kissed her hand. Adam sighed. She definitely wasn’t from the East.

‘Sara. How beautiful you look this evening.’ He smiled with maximum charm. It should not have surprised Adam in later years, how Joe had become such a ladies man, with his big brother to learn from.

Sara got her wrap and together they walked the short distance to the town hall. She smiled up at him often, and Adam thought for a girl who’d been so aloof, she’d changed her behavior towards him very quickly.

‘Adam, I’ve heard a rumor in town.’ Sara slid her hand up and threaded it through his fingers. He was surprised at her forwardness.

‘Oh, what rumor?’

‘That you’re going to be directing a play. Romeo and Juliet, to be exact.’ She smiled again and let her whole arm wind around his.

‘Oh, that. Well, it’s sort of true, but it might never come off. I mean, there’s so much work in it, and we haven’t even filled all the parts.’ Adam started thinking about the play as they strolled. Suddenly, Sara swiveled around in front of him, and stopped him in his tracks.

‘O Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?’

‘What?’ Adam stopped still in the middle of the road and took a moment to realize what the heck she was doing.

‘Deny thy father and refuse thy name.

Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,

And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.’

‘What are you doing, Sara?’ Adam looked at her strangely as she smiled up at him.

‘I’m auditioning. Wouldn’t I make a wonderful Juliet? I know the entire part. I’ve been reading it since Tuesday. Of course, you’d have to coach me a little, with the more…er…intimate scenes.’ She batted her eyelids quite deliberately and rubbed her hand against his fingers. Adam was at first bewildered. Then began to get annoyed with the dent to his ego.

‘You mean you only agreed to come out with me because I was directing this play?’ Adam pulled his hand away and crossed his arms, his male pride well and truly wounded.

‘Well, no, not the only reason.’ Sara tried to change her tack. ‘But I would make a great actress, don’t you think?’

Adam huffed out some air, and continued walking along the road.

‘It doesn’t matter if you would or if you wouldn’t. Megan’s got the part already.’ He gave her a satisfied glare and strode on towards the hall.

‘What, that toffee nose from New York?’

‘Yes. The play was her idea, so she got to be the lead. So sorry you wasted your time on me. I suppose you wouldn’t like to play the nurse?’ Sara changed her pleasant expression to a disagreeable one, and turned her nose up at Adam.

‘As IF! Adam Cartwright, you are an arrogant, self opinioned male!’ She stalked off ahead of him.

Adam’s night wasn't shaping up too well, and he wondered how many other girls were going to try the same thing. It didn’t do much for his ego, if all they wanted was a part in a stupid play. He arrived at the dance with a black expression growing on his handsome, young face.

It also didn’t help any when he saw his brother, Hoss, surrounded by a bevy of beauties all laughing, smiling and fawning over him. He forgot that it had been his idea for Hoss to tempt them with verse. Adam scowled and retreated to the punch table. He watched the women with Hoss, all trying to impress him with their acting ability. Hoss was quoting lines from the play. Megan was in amongst the lot of them, showing her smug self. Adam wished he’d never got involved in this. The only one that seemed to be benefiting was Hoss. Then, Adam brightened. Wasn't that the idea? Hoss needed to be on the winning side of things for a change. Adam watched his brother's growing confidence and his dark mood lifted. Hoss was joking and laughing. His shyness was falling away right in front of Adam's eyes.

The night was old and Adam a bit under the weather, when a light voice spoke from behind his shoulder.

‘Adam, excuse me, but, you’re not dancin'.’ He turned to find Sally looking up at him questioningly.

‘Don’t feel like it.’ Adam was embarrassed to say that none of the girls wanted to dance with him. Hoss was well and truly the toast of the evening. The girls had a score to settle with Adam, as Sara explained that he had cast Juliet without trying any of them out first. They were all miffed with him. Hoss, on the other hand, was winning them over with his impressive verse and growing confidence. Besides, everyone knew that Hoss was about the only person that could influence Adam. If Adam were to change his mind, it was best to plant the idea in Hoss's mind.

‘How about a waltz with me?’ Sally smiled sympathetically and took his hand.

‘Sure, I suppose.’ Adam took her out onto the floor, and danced, while watching his brother and his harem.

‘Hoss sure has become popular with all this play business.’ Sally hadn’t missed the unfolding events.

‘I hope he realizes they’re only after him because he could get them in the play.’

‘Oh, I don’t know. Your brother has long been admired by a great deal of the women in town, Adam. It’s just he’s usually so shy. I think this is good for him.’ Sally smiled and looked over to Hoss.

‘Even so, I’m not sure we should go through with all this. I can see some disasters on the horizon.’

‘Oh, Adam, just because the girls aren’t fawning over you for a change, I don’t see why you have to be so mean about it.’

‘I AM NOT complaining about that.’ Adam’s dark eyes glinted as he stopped dancing and dropped Sally’s arms.

‘Well, prove it. Go talk to Hoss, and wish him well.’ Sally raised her eyebrows and issued the challenge.

Adam bowed to her and moved over to his brother.

‘Ah, Hoss. This is where you are. Couldn’t see you for all these gowns and feathers.’ Despite the icy looks, Adam smiled charmingly at each of the women in turn. Especially at Megan and Sara who ignored him.

‘Hey, Adam! The girls and me were just going over a few of the lines from the play. They’re all really good too. Want to hear?’

‘Oh, why not. I don’t have anything else to do.’ Hoss grinned as Adam’s sarcastic retort went right over his head.

‘Okay, Sara, you go.’

Sara smirked at Adam and preened herself. She looked up into Hoss’s eyes and began.

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy.

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What’s Montague? It is nor hand nor foot

Nor arm nor face nor any other part.’

At that moment, Megan butted in, and pushed Sara out of the way, continuing the passage, albeit in a very stilted manner.

‘Belonging to a man. O, be some other name

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose

By any other word, would smell as sweet.

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo Called’

Adam yawned and leaned back on the punch table. He’d never thought he’d be sick of Shakespeare, but as the girls all took the part in turn, he was just that. None of them spoke with conviction and true meaning. They all overacted dreadfully. Adam didn’t think any of them could handle the part. Then Hoss spoke.

‘Call me but love, and I’ll be new baptized.

Henceforth, I never will be Romeo.’

All the girls tittered and phrased Hoss. For once, he didn't turn red, but thanked them very much for their words. Adam's bad mood dissipated. He suddenly realized just how good this all was for Hoss. He was being childish wanting attention from the ladies, when all the time it was more important for Hoss to be coming out of his shell. Adam smiled genuinely for the first time that evening, and patted his brother on the back.

'Well girls, there's plenty of parts in the play. Rehearsals start Monday.' Adam ended up having a pleasant night after all, and enjoyed watching his brother socialize with an increased measure of self-assurance.

*

The following week, Adam found frustrating. He was finding out what it was like to be in charge of such a production. It was much harder than organizing round up. He was auditioning everyone for the parts. There were far more girls than required after the dance. But, he was falling way short with the amount of men he needed. He'd decided to take of the role of Mercutio himself despite his already busy schedule. It was easier with one less person to teach Shakespeare to.

He also needed someone convincing and commanding to play Capulet, Juliet’s father, which posed a deeper problem. He was at a loss as to whom would be suitable, until Ben walked in from a day with the cattle and shouted in his booming voice for everyone to come to dinner. Adam smiled as the idea hit him. It wouldn’t be too hard to convince his father to be in the play, surely. He just had to flatter him the right way. At dinner that night, Adam tossed over in his head different ways to ask Ben.

‘Say, Pa. I’m having trouble with a passage from the play. Think you can give me a hand after dinner?’ Adam looked innocently at Ben who shrugged his shoulders, in a ‘why not’ reply.

‘I don’t see why I can’t play a part, Adam.’ Joe looked mean as he pushed the peas around on his plate. He’d figured he’d be able to talk his brother into letting him in the play, but Adam had remained stubborn about it.

‘There aren’t any characters in the play young enough for you Joe,’ Adam told him for the tenth time that day.

‘That ain’t fair.’

‘Isn’t.’ Adam corrected and turned his attention back to his father.

Little Joe stewed for the rest of the meal. Adam just wasn't being fair. He had a list of props to make but that wasn't exciting at all. Then, a thought occurred to him on how to get Adam back. He smiled deviously as a plan hatched.

Meanwhile, Adam was still trying to hatch a devious plan of his own.

‘Now, Pa, about that part.’

'I'll help you read, but that's all.' Ben narrowed his eyes and knew exactly what his eldest son had in mind. Adam retreated from his attack and spent the next few minutes planning a new strategy. He'd have to try after dinner, when he got his father alone.

‘I heard Hoss had a pretty good time at the party last night.’ Ben looked up from his chair later in the night. Hoss retired to his room to rehearse and Joe was upstairs, hopefully studying.

‘Yeah. He had a good time,’ Adam mumbled. He was still trying to think up a way to get his father to act in the play.

‘Adam, in all seriousness, if this foolish play acting actually gets Hoss to be more confident in public, then I think it’s a good thing, even though your work is suffering.’ Adam looked cautiously at his father. This was a great reason to pitch his idea of Ben joining the company.

Adam sighed dramatically, and put on a sad face as he leaned back into the blue chair.

'Well, it's been wonderful for him, Pa. But, I fear he's not going to get his chance after all.'

'Oh?' Ben answered cautiously, with his brow raised and his pipe poised. Adam was moving in for the kill again. He could feel it.

'Yeah, Pa. I've got a real problem filling a couple of the major roles. I think I'm going to have to call the whole thing off. Such a shame too. Hoss was really enjoying it.' Adam tried to remain cool, but he quickly glanced to his father, checking his reaction. Ben, a more experienced campaigner, was cooler than his son was.

'Oh, I've got every confidence in you, Adam. I know you'll find someone.'

Adam tried again.

'Well, I've tested all the men who were willing to be in it, but there's just nobody with enough presence, education or charisma to fill the part.'

Ben couldn't help himself.

'And what part is that?'

Adam heard the reluctant interest in his father's voice.

'Oh, it doesn't matter now. He left a minute of silence, before he continued. 'Capulet, Juliet's father. He's got to have a powerful, deep voice. I just can't think of anyone.' Adam glanced up and Ben narrowed his eyes.

'That is a problem.' Ben sighed as Adam pretended he'd just thought of the solution.

'Oh, that's it. Pa, you'd be perfect! How about just try it?'

'I told you all ready, I don't have time for this foolishness.'

'But you said it's good for Hoss. Would you do it for him? For Hoss?' Adam pleaded with his eyes and Ben knew he was in a corner.

'Oh…where's the book?' Ben frowned and gave in, as he seemed to be doing more and more as his sons grew older. 'But I'm only doing it for Hoss!' he added.

Adam smiled in triumph and got his copy of the book.

'Okay, Pa, page 3 and take it from the top.' Adam retrieved his stick and tapped it in time to his father's voice.

*

Adam smiled to himself as Ben soon got involved in the character of the play. His father's voice was loud and clear and would give a professional polish to the production. He just had to arrange rehearsals to fit around his father's busy schedule. Joe meanwhile, actually appeared to be behaving himself by working on props and staying out of the way. Adam had given him a list of things to find or make which kept him occupied on the first afternoon of rehearsal. Adam should have been suspicious, but he was too involved in trying to get everyone in the same room at the same time to start practicing.

The first night after rehearsal, Adam had nightmares! Most of the volunteers were terrible, but how could you tell friends that without offending them? The only two that were halfway decent was Hoss and his father. He also included himself in that list. Megan was ghastly. She obviously thought she was something special, but she didn't have any feeling for the part at all. Besides that, she criticized everyone else. Ross, Adam's best friend was playing Montague, Romeo's father. Ross had bucked at the idea to start with, but Adam insisted. He had a quiet chuckle to himself later at the irony of it. Sally ended up playing the nurse after all, and a spinster called Kathy who'd been interested in Ben for some time, took on the role of Lady Capulet when she heard he was in the play.

Most of the others were cowhands or miners from town who thought it sounded like fun, but didn't have the slightest idea about Shakespeare. Adam found himself having to explain the play to most of them as well as try and organize them to work together. He got writer's cramp doing copies of the passages for everyone, as well as extra notes in the margins. He sure hoped it was all going to be worth it in the end. At least Hoss was enjoying himself.

When he eventually got to bed in the small hours of the morning, he tossed and turned. Well, at least Miss Jones, Joe's teacher hadn't got wind of it yet! That would really be a nightmare if she did. Adam had a terrible feeling that she was kind of sweet on him. Unfortunately the feeling was not mutual. Adam figured that Abigail Jones must have been born old. She was only a few years older than Adam, but she was so strict and straight laced. He had to hope that Little Joe behaved himself during the next few weeks to keep her out of his hair.

*

'Hey, Adam. I got a note for you from Miss Jones!' Joe came running into the house the next afternoon after school. Adam was finishing the scripts for everyone before they arrived to start rehearsal. He sighed from his place at his father's desk.

'Joe, what have you done THIS time?' Adam rubbed his tired eyes before raising his eyebrow at his little brother.

'I ain't done nothing, Adam. I swear! She just done told me to give ya this note.'

'Yeah, right.' Adam frowned as Joe handed over a crumpled lump of paper that was once a crisp, neat letter. He kept a suspicious eye on his sibling as he unfolded it and read the flowing handwriting.

'Dear Mr Cartwright,

It is with deep admiration that I give my congratulations. Your endeavor to stage what must be the most romantic play ever written is truly admirable. Little Joseph has told me that you plan to allow him to help by making props and backdrops. I would consider it an honor for you to allow all the school children to help with this task. Please come by the schoolhouse at your earliest convenience to discuss your proposal on what you would like me to do for you. I would also like to say, it's wonderful to find a young man in this town who is willing to share great literature with the world. I look forward to discussing your thoughts on the play.

That I shall say goodnight, till it be morrow.

Abigail Jones, Schoolmistress.

Adam moaned and let his head fall rather heavily onto the desk. Joe jumped at the dull noise. His plan had obviously worked. He knew Miss Jones would be tickled by the idea of Romeo and Juliet. Adam was now in the thick of trouble, as he'd intended when he'd let slip details of the play. There weren't many people that scared Adam, but Joe knew his teacher was one of them. As a matter of fact, she scared Joe too.

'Adam? I'm sure sorry if I've done something to get you in trouble with Miss Jones again.'

Adam sighed. He was 24 years old, a college graduate and second in command on the Ponderosa, but still, Little Joe's teacher could frighten the daylights out of him.

'Adam?' Joe looked concerned for his own safety as Adam raised his head, cradled by his hand.

'Well, you might have kept the play details to yourself at school. You know how Miss Jones loves romantic stories. Now, she wants to…help.' Adam almost choked on the word. He always felt uncomfortable when he had to go see her about Little Joe's behavior. Since coming back from college, Ben had sent him down on several occasions. He had a feeling his father was all too happy to have Adam go in his stead. Trouble was, with Adam having completed a college degree, Miss Jones was always wanting to discuss it with him. She liked a man with education, and Adam again came to the conclusion that she'd fixed her sights on him. If he weren't careful, he'd be backed into a corner from which he'd find difficult to escape.

'Oh, sucks, Adam. I cain't make all them props on my own. You should be happy she wants to help. And I'm sure she'll love to discuss them romantic scenes with you.' Joe snickered with laughter.

'Yeah. Now, you can just get to your homework! I'm not going to allow her any reason to hold me in debt, understand?' Joe knew when to act agreeably. He dutifully nodded his head and went to work on his English grammar. Watching Adam squirm around Miss Jones was worth doing some homework.

*

'Oh, Mr Cartwright. I'm SO pleased you could come.' Adam's pale face smiled a nervous greeting at Miss Jones as the children prepared to go home after their school day.

'That's quite all right, Miss Jones.'

'Children. Mr Cartwright is going to ask our help in making props for Romeo and Juliet. All next week, I'm going to read the play to you, so you'll know the story.'

A chorus of moans filtered up through the class. Adam smiled apologetically as the children turned to him with grouchy expressions.

'Now, children. You all should appreciate Shakespeare. Now, I'll see you all tomorrow. I have to discuss details with Mr Cartwright.' The children giggled this time as they saw the dreamy far away expression on their schoolmarm's face. She always got that way when she spoke about romantic books.

Adam looked increasingly uncomfortable as the children poured past him and out into the afternoon sunshine. As Joe passed, Adam reached out like a bear catching a salmon with his paw and pulled him back by the collar.

'Oh no you don't. You're staying right here!'

'But Adam…' Joe shut his mouth as his brother gave him a chilling look. 'Boy, and I didn't even do anything wrong!' Joe grumbled as Adam pushed him in front like a guard as he approached Miss Jone's desk. This was a new low, needing his 13-year-old brother for protection. Still, it was better than nothing.

*

'No, no NO! They're swords, not guns!' Adam cradled his head in his hand and sighed. Rehearsals were not going well. He finally had enough volunteers, but they were more like a saloon rabble than a theatre company. He opened one eye and looked at the pathetic sight of twelve tough cowboys and miners trying to stage a convincing sword fight.

'Well, what we supposed to do, Adam? I ain't never used one of these toothpicks before.' George, one of the Ponderosa hands screwed up his face with distaste. A couple of them had the real ebays and the rest had either sticks or broom handles to use as swords.

'That's right, Adam. These are little kid's toys.' Hoss piped up from the back where he stood swatting at a fly that buzzed in the door. 'I mean, Little Joe plays with 'em, not grown men.' Adam's temper grew shorter and shorter as all the men started to groan and moan.

'Well, if Little Joe can used them, you lot should have no trouble! Adam threw his hands in the air, then smiled as an idea came to him. Joe had been complaining bitterly that he didn't have enough exciting stuff to do for the play. He was sick of making props and was at this very moment sulking upstairs because of it.

'Joe!' Adam called up to his little brother. 'Little Joe, I've got something special for you to do!'

Adam crossed his arms with satisfaction and waited for his brother to appear.

'What?' Joe peeked around the corner of the upstairs landing.

'How would you like to by my fight co-ordinator?'

'What's that mean?' A curious look crossed the boy's face.

'Come down here and teach this mob how to use a sword.'

'All right!' Joe bounded down the stairs two at a time. A huge grin split his face from ear to ear. This was something he was good at!

Little Joe finally felt included in the fun as he swashbuckled around the room with his ebay. The men in the play were hopeless, but they were determined not be beaten by a thirteen year old kid. So, they improved greatly. By the end of the week, they were doing quite well. From a distance, Adam reasoned, they almost looked realistic.

'Oh, Ross, you are SO bad. Your diction is terrible and you couldn't be more wooden if you tried!' Everyone looked up at Megan, who was playing Miss high and mighty yet again. Ross felt his anger rise. She was such a snooty, stuck up girl. They all thought so, but Ross was ready to tell her just that, when Adam pulled him to a corner and calmed him down.

'It's okay, Ross.'

'But Adam, she's a witch,' hissed Ross.

'I know it, you know it and everyone here knows it, but right now we have to get along. Tell you what, I give you permission to dump her into the water trough in town straight after the play's over, deal?' Ross scratched his chin and looked over to when Megan was preening her dress.

'Deal.' Everyone sighed and they battled on.

*

Adam chuckled when he went to collect the costumes Sally made for the play. A dozen sets of men's tights lay out waiting. Adam had a feeling that none of the volunteers had really thought about what they would be required to wear. The tunics that accompanied them were also had a feminine edge to them. Hardened miners and cattlemen would surely balk at donning the costumes. Another battle loomed in Adam's way.

He got the cargo home and called on Joe to help him carry them inside. He didn't want Hoss and the others to see them just yet. He had to pass the point of no return before that happened. Joe burst into laughter when he saw the costumes.

'Adam, you don't mean Hoss has to wear these?' He held up a pair of flimsy tights as they set the bundles of costumes on Adam's desk.

'Yeah, that's what he'll wear, but don't you tell him! No point worrying him yet.'

Joe just burst into high-pitched laughter.

'Little Joe, you promise NOT to say anything, or I'll string you up, understand?'

S… s…sure Adam!' Joe continued to chuckle hideously for the rest of the afternoon.

Hoss lay awake in his bed that night. The final production was getting closer and closer. He felt his performance was improving thanks to all the coaching Adam was giving him, but he didn't like Megan. After trying to impress her, now that he knew her he didn't think it'd been worth it. She was self opinionated and very critical of everything Hoss and the others did. He much preferred to talk and practice with Sally, but Adam was counting on Hoss to work with Megan. He had to admit, he was feeling much less shy and was actually enjoying the experience more and more. He'd found his big voice and if nothing else, he knew that people would be able to hear him from the back of the hall. As he drifted off to sleep, he recited his favorite lines from the end of the balcony scene.

'Sleep dwell upon thine eyes, peace in thy breast!

Would I were sleep and peace, so sweet to rest!

The grey-eyed morn smiles on the frowning night,

Chequering the eastern clouds with streaks of light,

And darkness fleckled like a drunkard reels

From forth day's pathway made by Titan's wheels.

Hence will I to my ghostly Friar's close cell,

His help to crave and my dear hap to tell.

*

'Joe, what's the story really about?' Hallie looked up at her friend as she helped him nail together a fake window frame.

'Heck, some guy and girl fallin' in love. Everyone know's that!' Joe smiled cheekily at Hallie's blue eyes and almost missed the nailed and hammered his finger.

'Well, I know that, but I don't understand what they're sayin'. And when Miss Jone's talks about it, I just almost fall asleep.'

'Yeah, I know. It's kinda dull, ain't it?' Joe frowned for a moment. He couldn't see anyone actually wanting to watch this stuff, let along like it. What it needed was some comedy relief. If only he could find a way to make it more enjoyable. As he nailed into the pine, the frame moved and fell in two. Joe huffed in frustration and Hallie laughed.

'What's so funny? I almost hit my thumb,' Joe complained.

'Well, I was just thinkin', wouldn't it be funny if the window fell down during the play? Or, if a frog suddenly turned up near that awful Megan's feet just when she was doing a dramatic speech?' Hallie's blue eyes glinted with mischief, as did Joe's green ones. What a great idea! Some of the props were just begging to be tampered with.

*

'Now, Little Joe, I'm assigning you a very important task.'

'Yeah, sure Adam. Whatever.' Joe was totally bored by all the 'important tasks' his brother had made him perform up to now. He was looking forward to the few surprises they'd worked out for the live performance, but that wasn't enough to hold his interest for the remaining two weeks. He was thinking about going to the river with Hallie. He'd helped Hoss with the balcony scene and although he didn't quite understand the meaning, he knew girls found it very romantic. He was dying to see Hallie's reaction.

'Now, Joe, we need to sell over a hundred tickets to the play so we can help the church with the new roof.' Adam continued to talk while Little Joe daydreamed about kissing Hallie's hand and reciting poetry just like Adam did with girls when he thought Joe wasn't spying on him.

'We need to make up posters. Something eye catching. Something that will grab the attention of the theatre going public!' Adam walked around the great room, deep in thought.

'I'm going to let you devise something, Little Joe. This is your chance to show your entrepreneurial skills.'

'Huh?' Joe, still only half listening, wondered what Adam was really talking about.

'Do you understand Joe?'

'I have to sell all the tickets by Thursday? Oh, come on, Adam…How am I gonna do that? Talk about unfair.'

'I think it will be good for you. It will be character building.'

'Oh, boy!' Joe whined, then he suddenly got a brilliant idea. He knew how to promote the play. It was simple.

'All right, Adam. I'll do it. All I have to do is sell all the tickets, right?'

Adam, about to reprimand him for not listening and complaining again, stopped in mid word.

'Well, yes. That's what you have to do.'

'Fine, no problem.' Joe said as he pulled an apple from the fruit bowl. A devious smile played on his lips.

'You understand about the posters? And that you have to advertise the play and come up with something good enough to tempt people along?'

'Yeah, don't sweat it, Adam.' Joe smiled smugly and lay back on the couch, propping his feet up as his father wasn't home. Adam looked at his little brother with suspicion.

'You sure you under…'

'I told you, I'm gonna do it. I might sell even MORE than one hundred. How would you like that?'

'Hmph. Well, all right. And Joe?'

"Yeah, Adam?' Adam looked down and caught the reprimand just before it slipped out. There was no use telling Joe to get his feet off the furniture any more. His father hadn't succeeded with any of them on that issue. And, although Ben would still attempt to cure his youngest of the habit for several years to come, Adam knew it was a lost cause all ready.

'Oh never mind. I'll check with you Sunday to see how you're doing.'

*

That night, Adam walked up the stairs feeling defeated. Megan was a nightmare in the play. Everyone was complaining about her. The men didn't want to wear the costumes that he'd presented. Hoss refused to kiss Megan in the important scenes. And, to top it all off, nobody was probably even going to show up to watch it. After all, what tough miners wanted to watch Romeo and Juliet anyway? He should have done Macbeth.

Early on Sunday morning, Adam readied the buggy for church. He'd worked on the fencing all day Saturday to try and make up for the lost time they'd spent on the play. Work was falling behind and he knew his father was getting frustrated at the lack of work being done. He too, wanted the nightmare to be over. As he hitched the buggy, he remembered to check with Little Joe to see how many tickets he'd sold. Perhaps, if he'd sold none, Adam could call the whole thing off without much harm done. The reverend was looking forward to some proceeds to fix the roof of the church, but surely he'd understand if nobody were willing to support the production.

Adam watched Joe as he came out of the house. He was dressed fairly neatly, although his too long hair flopped into his eyes.

'Little Joe, I forgot to ask. I've been up at the south line for two days. How did you go with the ticket sales?'

'Oh, you'll be real pleased with me, Adam.' Joe grinned like a loon. He walked confidently over to his big brother and puffed out his chest with pride. 'I done sold ALL the tickets and even made up and sold another 30 more on top.'

'What?' Adam, stunned, stared at his sibling.

'Yup, I done sold them all. I could'a raised the price too. Folk's was fightin' over 'em.'

'You mean you didn't have any trouble? People just handed over their money?'

'Sure! O'course, I came up with a great poster, Adam. Just like you told me to. I made it eye-catchin' and interestin'. People can't wait to see the play!' Joe smiled with pride, and jumped up onto the buckboard's seat.

Adam couldn't believe it.

'You're not joshing me, are ya Little Joe?'

'Nope. I gave the money to Pa last night. He's got it in the safe. You can count it if you want.'

'No, no.' Adam, surprised but delighted by this unexpected turn of events, let a broad smile break out on his face. 'That's wonderful, Joe. I'm proud of you.'

'Well, that's what I like to hear.' Ben came out of the house and overheard Adam's praise.

'Did you hear that, Pa? Joe sold all the tickets to the play.'

'Yes, wonderful, isn't it? See, I told you that your little brother could help if only you'd give him a change.' Ben patted both his sons on the shoulder. They waited patiently for Hoss who was probably reciting Shakespeare into the mirror as he dressed. He was doing that a lot lately. They were all beginning to wish for the play to be over. There was only so much more of Hoss and Romeo that they could take.

*

The church service was pleasant enough, and Adam even agreed with the sermon as he was in a good mood. He was curious at some of the glances he and his family were getting from some of the other parishioners. The looks were ones of interest and sometimes amusement. He could only gather that the word about the play was well and truly out and people were looking forward to his brilliant directing skills. He'd make a point of talking about it when the service was over.

Then, as everyone trailed out into the summer sunshine, Adam heard a series of snickers and whispers. He smiled at a few of the people he knew, then got more and more suspicious. He walked over to the Devlins.

"So, looking forward to the play?"

Mitch's parents started to grin then held it.

'Oh yes, Adam it should be a riot…umm, very cultural!' replied Mr Devlin.

Adam nodded slowly with even more suspicion.

'I hear Hoss is Romeo.' Mrs Devlin's face was turning red and Adam could have sworn that she was about to burst into laughter.

'That's right! And he's going to do a good job, too.'

Adam looked around, and it seemed everyone was snickering. Just what was going on? Where was Little Joe? He could see Hoss looking uncomfortable as he talked to the minister. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he spied one of the posters Little Joe had nailed up to the side of a building. Just how had he advertised the play, and why was he getting such amused reactions?

When he was free, he walked over to the building and studied the poster. Adam went red and puffed up like an enraged bull. Pulling the poster down in a fit of anger, he strode back to the church to find his little brother. He was going to get a lecture AND a tanning after this!'

Adam found Joe behind the church, giggling, with Hallie and Mitch. Joe turned and saw his brother bearing down on him with a screwed up poster in his clutches.

'Uh oh.' Joe backed up against the wall. Hallie and Mitch scattered like field mice in the path of a barn cat.

'Just what do you think this is?' Adam thrust the crumpled paper into Joe's face.

'Umm, a poster?' Adam breathed heavy and shot his brother a look that would have scared off the devil. He tried to keep his voice under control.

'I know it's a poster. What I'm concerned with is what's WRITTEN on the poster.'

'Well, it's telling everyone about the play, Adam. Like you said. Find something eye catching. Something that would make people want to pay money to see.'

'READ IT!' Adam unfolded the poster and displayed Joe's handiwork.

'Umm, it says….COME ONE, COME ALL….SEE HOSS CARTWRIGHT IN TIGHTS!!! Only a dollar per person. Friday night 7pm. Get there early to get a good view...' Joe's voiced trailed off and he swallowed deeply. It did sound bad, now that he thought about it.

'Joe, I told you to advertise the play, NOT humiliate your brother!' This is terrible!'

'B…but Adam, I did sell all the tickets. That's what you wanted, wasn't it?'

Adam caught his breath. How could you argue with that? He should have known that Joe always required specific instructions otherwise you had to take the consequences.

'All right. You get away with it this time. I'll fix it with Hoss, somehow.' Adam calmed and screwed the poster back up. 'Now, you get those friends of yours and scoot around town and pull down ALL those posters before Hoss sees them and beats ME up.'

'Yes, sir.' Joe, happy to be off the hook, ran away at lightning speed. Adam moved over to Hoss to keep him occupied until the job was done. Hoss's newfound confidence would soon crumble if he thought folks were going to the play to laugh at him for wearing tights. Only a week to go, thought Adam, as he steered Hoss away from the gathering crowds.

*

The day came when the second last rehearsal was underway. Adam was still worried about his two leads. They were just not working.

'No, Hoss, Megan. You're both too stiff in this passage. You have to sound and look like you love each other."

'And how do we do that, exactly?' Hoss didn't like Megan. He'd realized over the last couple of weeks just how stuck up and self centered she was. She often talked down to him and he'd done his best to smooth things but it wasn't working. He didn't think she was good at her part, and he didn't want to kiss her, as the scene demanded.

'You have to believe it in your hearts.' Adam said, as he paced up and down. It was two days before the performance, but Hoss and Megan were still having trouble with the intimate scenes. If the love between the two leads wasn't believable, then the whole thing fell apart in Adam's reasoning.

'Dadburnit, Adam. How do we do that when we ain't in love with each other really?'

'It's acting, Hoss. Pretend.'

'How about you show us?' Hoss watched his brother's frustration as he made the suggestion.

'Oh, all right.' Adam walked up to the front of the hall and moved into Hoss's position. 'Now, you watch me, Hoss.'

'Sure will, Adam.'

'And Megan, you have to be more desperate. You've just fallen in love with Romeo at first sight - so in love you're willing to die for him. You can't act it like you are reprimanding a disagreeable suitor. Do you understand that?' Megan glared at Adam with a sour look.

'Of course I understand,' she sniffed. She didn't like Adam. She thought he was bossy and overbearing. She thought she was doing a brilliant job of her part and she didn't need these country hicks to tell her otherwise. She almost answered back to that effect when Adam continued.

'Good. Now, let's try this, with conviction!'

Adam took a deep breath, shut his eyes briefly then, when he opened them, they looked down onto Megan with a torturous, longing gaze. He started on the passage of verbal sparring between Romeo and Juliet at the party. His voice was deep, full of conviction and totally focused on his Juliet.

'If I profane with my unworthiest hand

The holy shrine, the gentle sin is this

My lips, two blushing pilgrims, ready stand

To smooth that rough touch with a tender kiss'

Megan gasped at Adam's complete change into a realistic Romeo. She stumbled over her words.

'Good pilgrim, you do wrong your hand too much,

Which mannerly devotion shows in this

For…' She stopped and tried to remember her lines with Adam's dark eyes burning into hers.

'For saints have hands….' Prompted Sally from the sidelines.

'I know!' Megan narrowed her eyes at Sally and continued.'

'For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,

And palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss.' She was not at all believable as she recited the words in parrot fashion.

Even so, Adam continued.

'Have not saints lips, and holy palmers too?'

Megan knew what was coming, and she didn't want Adam Cartwright kissing her. She was far superior in her opinion and she wasn't going to allow him any liberties.

'Ay pilgrim, lips that they must use in prayer.' She backed away and Adam sighed in frustration.

'Megan! You're not playing the part.'

'I don't like you, Adam Cartwright! And I don't intend for you to kiss me!'

'It's in the play. You have to! Just like you have to let Hoss kiss you.'

"No, I don't!'

'Look,' sighed Adam. 'Who's going to believe you two as Romeo and Juliet if you don't even kiss each other once. Now, get over it!'

'Humph!'

Adam doggedly continued the passage.

'O, Then, dear saint, let lips do what hands do!

They pray: grant thou, lest faith turn to despair.' Adam captured her in his arms. She tried to pull away.

'Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake.'

'There move not while my prayer's effect I take.'

Adam moved down to within an inch of her mouth. Megan squeaked with surrender, and Adam kissed her deeply and thoroughly, sweeping her down into a classic pose. Hoss turned red, the cast all chuckled and murmured. Little Joe giggled with glee from behind the backdrop. Sally gasped and dropped her copy of the script. The kiss went on and on, and soon Hoss wondered if he'd have to break it up. Finally, Adam came up for air and released Megan. She was flushed and for a moment, looked unhappy that he'd stopped.

'Thus from my lips, by thine my sin is purged.'

Adam smiled smugly as he finished the line. He missed seeing Megan's hand coming out of nowhere. Her slap was hard and effective. Adam staggered back with the force and those who'd been chuckling roared into laughter. It took Adam a minute to realize he'd been humiliated in front of everyone. He'd had about enough of Megan and her airs. He approached her with thunder in his eyes. Megan, who'd had a very satisfied expression on her face, soon lost it.

'That's IT!'

Hoss had seen that look in his brother's eye before. It usually came before a severe tongue lashing in his case, or in Little Joe's case, a tanning. Hoss hurried forward to save Megan.

'Now, Adam. Don't go getting' all riled. Megan's a lady, remember?'

'She needs to be taught a lesson!'

'That may be, but…'

'You can forget that, MR Cartwright! I'm leaving this production. And you can all suffer the disaster of an opening night WITHOUT a Juliet.' She put her nose in the air and breezed past the company. As she reached the door, she turned. 'What a bunch of pathetic inbreeds!' Everyone in the room, thoughily sick of her whining, wished at that moment that they'd had something they could throw at her, such as rotten tomatoes. But they were rewarded as she'd stuck her nose so far in the air, that she tripped on the uneven porch outside and landed in a dusty heap in the dirt. This time Adam's mouth pulled into smile.

'Well, thank goodness for THAT! Dave, one of the Ponderosa hands said what they'd all been afraid to say for days.

'Well, that's that then, I guess. We cain't go on without a Juliet.' Hoss, actually disappointed, walked around the stage and kicked at one of the prop flowerpots. 'And Little Joe done went and sold all the tickets too. Them folks is gonna be mad.'

'No problem, Hoss. We have a Juliet.' Adam, suddenly feeling much more relaxed walked over to the sidelines.

'Sally? You know Juliet's part pretty well. How about you take over?' Sally gulped air as Adam asked the question. 'Besides,' Adam continued, 'Hoss isn't as nervous around you. This might just work out after all.' Sally smiled as she walked up to Hoss.

'I'd be honored to play Juliet, Adam. Hoss is so good. We can practice all night if we have to.' She blushed pink and Hoss turned red at the idea. Sally didn't scare him. In fact, he really liked her.

'Good. Ah, here's Pa. We can do a full run through now!' Ben, who'd been on business, apologized for being late but didn't comment on the change of leading lady. He'd hoped Megan might develop some kind of nasty disease before they had to perform. Ben wasn't normally unkind, but that girl was a problem to everyone.

*

Adam was finally pleased after the last dress rehearsal. Hoss and Sally worked much better together. Everyone was impressed with the scenes they had together and they made the story much more believable. They were starting to gain confidence in their ability not to embarrass themselves beyond repair. Ben came over to Adam as they finished up at the hall and prepared to ride home.

'Well, Adam. It looks like you've done it. I've never seen Hoss look so self-assured. He's doing really well.

'Yeah, it's been worth it, don't you think Pa?'

'Well, I suppose so. I'm just worried the Ponderosa won't be there when we eventually finish this foolishness and get back to work.

'Ah, Pa. It'll still be there. Besides, I know you're having fun. Did I see you and Kathy out buggy riding the other afternoon?' Adam raised a curious brow to his father.

'Er, well sort of. Not really. We had some lines to rehearse, that's all.' Ben suddenly hurried to ready his horse. Adam crossed his arms and smiled knowingly. Just as Little Joe spied on Adam, Adam did a good job keeping an eye on Ben. He filed the knowledge away in his mind, to bring up at a later date. Once Hoss and Joe joined them, they all rode home in good humor.

*

Hoss was sweating bullets as the hall began to fill. The tights he wore clung to his thick thighs like a second skin and made him feel practically naked. When he'd found out about Joe's posters, he'd thrown his little brother into the water trough and grabbed Adam in a bear lock from which it took him 20 minutes to escape. And only then because Hoss got hungry and allowed him up. After that, Hoss paced relentlessly in his room, worrying over the costume and whether he could go through with it at all. Sally's involvement had helped, but Hoss's confidence crumbled badly on the night. As the hall began to fill, Hoss built his panic into a raging temper and refused flat to go on.

'Adam, I ain't goin' out there to be a laughin' stock. You ain't gonna make me!' Hoss jutted his chin in defiance.

'But Hoss, everybody's counting on you.' Adam tried to calm him down.

'You don't need me. You know my part, you do it!

'But then who'll do my part?' Adam had to find some way to talk his brother around.

'Look, Hoss, it's true, folks are going to be amused at the sight of you in these tights. But they'll laugh at all of us, not just you. Don't forget, I'm wearing tights too.'

'Yeah, but on you Adam they look good.' Hoss kicked at a chair that lay in his path.

'I wouldn't say that.' Adam looked down and grimaced. 'Hey, did you see Pa? He looks like a court jester in that funny hat Sally made for him!' Hoss grinned and settled down.

'It's just a play, Hoss. It'll be fun. And you are good in your part. People might laugh to start with, but they'll like it in the end, I guarantee it.'

'Well, okay.' Adam sighed with relief, then hurried around to check the last minute details. The only thing Adam ever wanted to direct again was a bunch of cows that couldn't answer him back!

Joe was behind the stage area, ready to change the backdrop and bring the various props in and out. Hallie was in charge of the hand held props, such as swords. They both smiled secretively to one another as they looked in their box of 'extra' props. It was going to be a hoot when they livened things up.

*

The number of people in the hall swelled. Soon, it was filled to overflowing and more people than tickets sold seemed to be jammed into every corner. Adam looked out just before curtains and was suddenly frozen with nerves. What if they made fools of themselves? What if the audience hated it? Would they ever be able to show their faces in town again? All these questions converged into his mind as the church bells chimed 8 in the distance.

Adam came out first to introduce the play. There was a wave of laughter and hollering from the crowd as they saw him dressed in costume. Adam just hoped Hoss hadn't turned tail and run out the back door at the sound. However, once he made his opening speech, thanking everyone for coming and outlining the play, everyone seemed to settle down to watch. As he was leaving the stage, a lump rose in his throat as he saw Abigail Jones in the front row, waving at him. He scuttled off and made a note to make a quick getaway at the end.

Everyone clapped as each person they knew came on to act their part. When Hoss appeared as Romeo for the first time, laughter reigned. But then, as Hoss boldly spoke his piece, everyone quieted down again to listen. Ben got a similar reaction, but his voice was loud and clear and everyone was impressed with how well they knew their parts. They got through the first half without a hitch.

They were up to the balcony scene when Little Joe and Hallie decided it was time for fun. Out of their box of tricks, Joe plucked a big green bullfrog. Just before Sally was due to go up the three steps they'd built to the little balcony, he hid the frog in a pot plant that sat on the balcony ledge. He snickered to himself as he raced back down. Hallie and he hid around the corner to watch.

Hoss came onto the stage a moment later. He walked across and stood beneath the raised balcony. He looked up and started his passage.

'He jests at scars that never felt a wound.'

Sally entered onto the balcony and everyone in the audience clapped.

'But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!

Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon,

Who is already sick and pale with grief

That thou her maid art far more fair than she.

Be not her maid, since she is envious.

Her vestal livery is but sick and green,

And none but fools do wear it. Cast it off.

It is my lady. O, it is my love!

O that she knew she were!

Just then, as Sally looked out wistfully into the pretend night, the frog in the pot decided it would like a new home. With one enormous hop, it landed on Sally's shoulder and an ear-piercing scream echoed through the hall. Everyone in the audience erupted into laughter as she jumped up and down and hit at the frog to be rid of it. Hoss looked up, stunned for a moment. He instinctively said the next line.

'She speaks. Yet she says nothing. What of that?

Everyone laughed again at the irony of the line. Then, in a dramatic turn of events, the frog escaped from the noise and jumped down, landing unceremoniously on Hoss's head. Like a true professional, he finished the passage, complete with frog, much to the audience's delight.

Adam, who had just finished his passage watched helplessly. Then, he realized who must have been behind it.

'Joseph!' He found his brother belly laughing in the corner behind the stage.

'Yeah, Adam?'

'You just go and get that frog OFF Hoss's head right this minute!' Adam chilled him with a angry look.

'Right now, in front of everyone?'

'Yes! In front of EVERYONE! Or you'll be mucking stables until you're 30!' Joe gulped but did as he was told, running out like lightning and snatching the frog down off his brother's head as Hoss bent down. The audience clapped the stagehand as he raced off again. Fortunately, it didn't distract from the scene as Hoss boldly continued. By the time Sally had to speak, she'd calmed down.

And when they'd completed the romantic scene, they got a hearty round of applause from the crowd.

They were all waiting for the kissing scene later on, and true to form, Hoss turned red as a beet before he kissed Sally. But they made a nice job of it, and the women in the audience let out a romantic sigh as they performed the task.

Towards the end of the play, woman were getting their handkerchiefs out and you could hear a pin drop as Hoss played a stricken Romeo who believed his beloved Juliet dead. Even Adam, who'd heard him play the scene a hundred times was moved as he watched from the sidelines. Hoss was always sincere, and he brought that feeling to the passage.

Sally lay on the cot that was part of Juliet's tomb. Joe had considered sawing the legs off to make it collapse as Hoss leaned on it, but now was glad he didn't follow through as even he became wrapped up in Hoss's final speech.

…'Will I set up my everlasting rest

And shake the yoke of inauspicious stars

From this world-wearied flesh. Eyes, look your last!

Arms, take your last embrace! And, lips, O you

The doors of breath, seal with a righteous kiss

A dateless bargain to engrossing death!

Come, bitter conduct, come, unsavory guide!

Tou desperate pilot, now at once run on

The dashing rocks thy seasick weary bark!

Here's to my love!

Hoss held the chalice up to his mouth and drank the pretend poison. All the women gasped.

'O true Apothecary!

Thy drugs are quick. Thus with a kiss I die.'

Hoss fell dramatically to the floor and a spate of crying filled the hall. Adam smiled with triumph as he realized it was all a success after all. Then, as the play moved on, and Juliet awoke from her faked death to find her Romeo really dead, the women continued to howl. Sally's final speech was heart wrenching and had everyone enthralled.

'What's here? A cup, closed in my true love's hand?

Poison, I see, hath been his timeless end.

O churl! Drunk all, and left no friendly drop

To help me after? I will kiss thy lips.

Haply some poison yet doth hang on them

To make me die with a restorative.

Sally leaned down and kissed Hoss's lips. Miss Jones wailed with tears in the front row!

'Thy lips are warm!

Juliet, upon hearing someone coming, snatched up a dagger lying beside the cot.

'Yea, noise? Then I'll be brief. O happy dagger!

This is thy sheath; there rust and let me die.

Sally dramatically took the fake dagger, raised it up and stabbed herself. She then slumped back onto the floor, falling across Hoss.

Everyone was crying now, even the men! Through the rest of the play, sniffles and sobs were abounding. When the final passage was spoken and the play ended, everyone erupted into applause. All the actors sighed with relief, and Hoss and Sally sprang back to life to accept it.

It took a couple of hours to clear the hall after so many congratulations. It had been a total success and they'd raised much more than hoped for the church. Ben and the boys were left to clean things up and along with a couple of the others were still there well after midnight. Ben, satisfied with his son Hoss's achievement smiled tiredly as he got back into his work clothes. At least all this foolish playacting could now be forgotten and they could all get back to work.

When the work was all done, Ben, tired beyond caring, called for his sons to follow him home. Each was still caught up by their admirers. Hoss was deep in conversation with Sally and several other women that had lingered. He was telling them about his plans to San Francisco on his next holiday, and perhaps joining a theatre company. Ben raised his eyes to the ceiling on that one. Miss Jones had Adam bailed up in a corner, gushing over the play and his achievement. Ben thought about rescuing him but he really was too tired. Besides, he really didn't care for Miss Abigail. Joe was throwing flowers to Hallie who was up in the balcony leaning over giggling.

Ben sighed. The ranch work was way behind. His sons were starting to control him in ways he'd never have thought possible. He had a feeling life would only get more complicated in the years to come. Shakespeare had it easy, he realized wryly. He'd only had one Romeo to contend with. Ben had three!

'Oh, Romeos?' He barked loudly. Each of his sons turned in unison. 'Wherefore art thou WORK?'

'Coming Pa.' He heard their obedient replies and smiled as he walked to his horse. Well, one thing for sure. Life would never be dull.

THE END

Please take a moment to review this story!

Click to add text, images, and other content